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Accounts of samādhi from the life of Hanshan Deqing (1546–1623)

Note: there is a monk named Hanshan who was from a much earlier period, and wrote very famous poetry. The monk featured here is also named Hanshan, but with a different character and meaning.

Hanshan Deqing was a famous Chinese Buddhist monk from the Ming dynasty, who lived about 400 years ago. He was known as a great reformer of Buddhism during that dynasty, and he advocated both Pure Land and Chan together. Perhaps most significantly, he wrote a nice autobiography all about his own cultivation, which became very popular thereafter. The following excerpts come from the translation by Richard Cheung.

First, we have a short account of developing samadhi through concentration on sounds. These events are from when he was 30 years old, when he was living alone in a hut as a hermit.

Hoping to master this technique (i.e. concentration on sound), I went to a wooden bridge every day and tried to listen to the water without thinking about it or anything else. At first, all I could hear was noise. My mind kept thinking. But after a little practice, my mind began to settle down. Then, one day, when my thoughts had ceased to surge like the water, I became so immersed in the sound that I actually forgot myself. The noise and my existence were gone. Serenity enveloped my mind. After that, whenever I heard a sound that previously would have annoyed me, all I had to do was concentrate on that sound without mentally grasping it, and I would be lulled into the same serene state.

Every day I cooked rice and ate it with wild vegetables and porridge. Then, after the meal, I’d take a nice walk. But one day, while I was walking, I happened to stop and stand still, and in that blissful moment, I entered samadhi. Soon I ceased to be aware of anything except a great brightness, round and full, clean and still like a huge round mirror. Mountains, rivers, and the great earth, itself, appeared in the mirror. When I regained consciousness, I returned to the hut and noticed that the rice cooker was covered with dust. How long had I been in samadhi? I couldn’t guess.

On another occasion, when he was 31, he records dwelling in samadhi for five days. After breaking into his house, visitors were only able to rouse him with the chime of a small bell.

For five days in a row, a servant boy came to my door and knocked, but he never got an answer. When Prefect Hu returned and heard about my failure to respond, he ordered his men to break into my room through the window. They found me wrapped in my robe, still sitting in the same place. He tried to wake me up using every trick he could think of, but his efforts were all in vain. I did not respond.

Suddenly he remembered once having picked up a small musical instrument called a Ching that was on the table of his Buddha shrine. He had asked me what it was for and I had explained that in India people used it to wake up monks who had entered deep samadhi and couldn’t be awakened by other means. He got the Ching and holding it close to my ear began to strike it. Slowly I awakened. When I finally opened my eyes, I didn’t know where I was or how I had got there. “This is your fifth day of sleep,” the Prefect said. I said, “It feels more like my first day of life.”

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Sounds like the imperturbable samadhi mentioned in the Ud3.3!

Wow, this is so beautiful, thanks so much.

I have never heard of Hanshan Deqing before. Your post led me to his autobiography and the maxims he has written there are truly insightful.

In No. 66, regarding desire:

We spit out the ashes in our mouths and search for another tree to cut down.

And centuries ago, he saw the decline of the Dhamma:

The pathway to the Dharma Cave has become overgrown with weeds. It is hidden now from view.

A few months I ago, I did the same thing, in the Himalayas. I would go to a small stream, sit down, shut out the world and just listen to the sound of the stream. I never attained samadhi or anything, but it was peaceful and my mind would slowly quiet down and the gurgle of the stream was the only event I wanted to be aware of.

How liberating it must have been to Hanshan when he says:

I became so immersed in the sound that I actually forgot myself. The noise and my existence were gone.

Anyway, it was interesting to read about such an earnest ascetic. What a pleasure it is to read pithy statements by solitary wanderers from ancient times…

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got around to reading up to the quoted text in Hanshan’s autobiography, which your post turned me on to, so thank you

the second account however he antecedes with a statement that he fell asleep, so evidently this wasn’t samadhi, unless later in the text he clarifies the nature of the experience